Can’t Get Online Week – The Amazing WiBE

I don’t usually endorse products, but, during Can’t Get Online Week, I experienced something which really knocked me sideways. In the run up to the week, Richard Dix of Rural Broadband contacted me to ask if I would like a loan of a WiBE (Wireless Broadband Extender) for the week. I gratefully accepted his offer, but did so with a degree of skepticism. I had read some of the publicity about the WiBE which seemed to make unfeasible claims about its ability to get mobile broadband signals in places where no other device could get one, but I was willing to give it a go, as some of the places I was due to visit during the week would offer it a real challenge.

So, as I was leaving the second event of day 2 at Sedgeford, Norfolk, Richard handed over the box containing the WiBE and I wired it into the car to make the Can’t Get Online Week vehicle truly internet enabled.

WiBE in @citycarclub carI also took possession of a second WiBE to hand over to Lindsey Annison for testing in the Cyberbarn and other remote parts of Cumbria, and Chris Conder had already received hers through the post, and was putting it through its paces around north Lancashire.

My initial impression was that the WiBE was getting an impressively stable signal in the car as I drove from Norfolk to Birmingham, but I didn’t really get a chance to put it through its paces until I reached the Cyberbarn in Warcop on the Wednesday evening. There, in a village where mobile signals are at best patchy, and half the households can get no broadband connection at all via landlines, the WiBE registered between 2 and 3Mbps in different locations.

But, the really impressive performance came on Thursday afternoon, at the Goats on the Roof Cafe. Jumping into the car after an impassioned meeting at Byers Green in County Durham, I headed up the A1, past Newcastle, turned off, and trusted the SatNav to take me to the right place. I was having doubts as the roads got windier and narrower, and seemed to go on for ever. But, then I saw the Goats on the Roof sign.

Goats on the roof sign

But, even then, there was a bit of doubt, as this led me on to a single-track road which seemed to take a long while to navigate. Then a reservoir came into view, with a wooden building in the foreground, which I was relieved to discover was the cafe in question.

Goats on the Roof CafeAs you can see, it was getting dark, and, unfortunately, I was not to be fortunate enough to see any actual goats on the roof. As I got out of the car, I thought that this had to be the most remote venue of the week, there wasn’t a house to be seen for miles.

Any way, I soon learned that the internet connectivity for the cafe, and for 11 other households in the area, was provided by the Fontburn Internet Project whose members share a 3Mbps connection which is bounced around the hills by wireless means.

At this point, I plugged in the WiBE, fully expecting it not to work at all, as, not only is there no landline connection at Goats on the Roof, I was told that no one gets a mobile signal out there. And this is where I, and everyone else present, reeled in astonishment, as the WiBE pulled in a signal in excess of 4Mbps. Here’s the proof.

Goats on the roof speedtest

And so, in an area where no one gets a mobile signal, and no one can watch youtube or BBC iPlayer, we were able to do a live video Skype call with Richard Dix and I was able to play “Frozen Planet” on iPlayer.

As the Speed Test says, the WiBE had turned Fontburn from one of the more difficult connectivity areas in the country, to one which was suddenly “Faster than 52% of GB”.

And, since then, Chris and Lindsey have been out testing their WiBE’s in remote areas, and getting similarly remarkable results. You can see some of Chris’s tests on Fibre the Dog’s Bambuser channel here.

So, there it is. I was honestly amazed with what the WiBE could do. I am not sure it is a long term solution for internet access, but, if it can take people, in an instant, from having no internet connection at all, to having 4Mbps, it has got to be worth checking out.

More about the WiBE here http://ruralbroadband.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73&Itemid=105

ADDITION

Just as an addition to this post, I checked out the mobile broadband coverage map for Goats on the Roof. It shows no signal coverage at all on the Three network.

Three Network Coverage for Goats on the Roof

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34 thoughts on “Can’t Get Online Week – The Amazing WiBE

  1. I have been very impressed with the wibe, and although I am totally committed to fibre to the home projects, I do realise that not every community is ready to undertake them yet. I have been testing satellites and wifi since 2003, and helping to run networks with both technologies as we have very limited or no adsl round where I live. I am really impressed with the wibe on Three.

    I haven’t had a 4 meg yet, but I ran out of credit in the place where I might have got it so I will go back up there. My biggest fail has been down in villages, but once I get out into the really rural areas I have always got a signal so far. It hasn’t always been usable, so to be fair it isn’t the solution for everywhere, but if we got more fibre to the masts it COULD be, at least for a few years.

    Things I REALLY like about it are, you can payg, or take a contract, and also it is a perfect quick fix for all the desperate people struggling on dial up or really slow adsl.
    It also gets people online and accessing the digital world, so that when they are ready for more they will start to think about the best and cheapest solution, which brings us back to FIBRE.

    They are so simple to use its untrue, plug and play. They have great uploads, which nobody on market 1 exchanges have, so its easy to upload content. I also think that when a business or family gets a faster connection through the fibre they can then sell the wibe to someone else. With other solutions such as satellites, wifi or bonded copper lines there is no resale value. Also there are no expensive contracts with the wibe, they just run off a sim card and can use any network (so I am told) but the only network around here is 3 so that is all I have been able to test.
    Yes. The wibe is good. Very Good.
    chris

  2. John & Chris
    I am amazed at the WiBE. It seems to offer – as Chris says – an invaluable solution for people & communities that are not able for whatever reason to look at more permanent solutions to their connectivity problem.
    From the perspective of the work we do with rural churches & communities, it looks like a viable recommendation. I’ll be following this up.
    Simon Martin
    Arthur Rank Centre (www.arthurrankcentre.org.uk)

  3. With the 2 LAN ports on you could run long range WiFi from it.
    A local news reporter has a VOIP telephone attached to a WiBE as it gives better results than her mobile.

    You are all giving me an ideas for a web competition on oddest place for a WiBE to work.
    Let me think about this.

  4. Richard, no, not a challenge, please!! Did you ever see the CanDo Awards we did a few years ago? They showed just what people involved in rural and community broadband are truly capable of and that we need very little encouragement ;)

  5. I’d like to add my 2p about the WiBe. I think I’m just a little bit in love. I have been evangelising FTTH for far too long to believe we should adopt half measures, but after tonight’s dial up horror story (on 5tth.blogspot.com ), plus all my tests in ADSL notspots so far around here, I can honestly say that I would far prefer to put energies into the adoption of WiBes than letting BT, BDUK and our County Councils do some half-assed FTTC, or worse, USC, experiment which continues to leave many rural areas in the dark for who knows how many more years.

    If there will be £150 per rural home (approx) from BDUK and DEFRA, then it should be spent on WiBes where the FTTH case, both economically and comprehension-wise for users, is still unrealisable. If you turn this into true Fiwi where the rural 3G masts are fibre fed (C’mon operators, you know it makes sense, I’ve been trying to get you to understand this argument since 2003/4) instead of ridiculously expensive and data-limiting copper running to them, and the fibre is installed in tandem with communities who can then do FTTH to those properties where the economics and understanding and need *do* make sense, then we have something worth going for. Especially in that all-important Final 10%.

    Oh, and I think I’m a long way to getting at least one new build not having a landline now after the WiBe demos. And that for me would be a real win. No more copper going in the ground – a dream come true!!

    Tomorrow, the WiBe and I are going to turn up somewhat unannounced at a few places where I know there are major dial up and notspot issues (one place has 10 lines between 15 users which is actually as close to illegal as you can get but Ofcom seem deaf on that one) and fingers crossed I can get a signal for a few people so they finally have a choice. And I’m going to buy an invertor first thing so I can sit outside homes in the car if anyone is out and then leave them a note saying what I have found. After all, John and Chris both have invertors and I’m feeling very left out!

    • Every rural 3G base station I look at has a microwave backhaul, so I don’t get where this stuff about constrained copper connections to the masts comes from. Mobile operators buy leased line capacity as needed and spread it wirelessly.

      Nobody is addressing the available bandwidth question. What is the total sector throughput on a 3G mast from a given operator at long range ? If it’s only 10Mbits/s divided by all users on the sector then be careful how many people you get excited about using it at the same time.

      Why do you need an invertor – the input power to the thing is 6VDC. Get a grey fergie battery.

  6. This is really interesting. I may be missing something, but I don’t see anything about its cost (neither could I find anything on its website). Is the WiBE a realistic alternative from an economic perspective? And if it’s not considered in a broader strategy, is it at least affordable for local people or small businesses?

  7. Hi Michael
    if people are close to an exchange or a cabinet they will get a faster service than from a wibe. If they aren’t then a wibe is better than any other alternative I have seen so far inc satellite or wifi solutions. With many people not using landline phones any more it seems more sense to use this mobile solution if you are in a signal area. It will save £14.60 for a residential line come December. More for a business line of course.

    The sim can be used in a phone or in the wibe. The data transfer is expensive, so unless you take out a contract it isn’t really for watching videos with, but you can’t watch videos if you are a few km from an exchange anyway. I think its far better to use a wibe rather than spend money patching up copper, but the problems will come when the masts can’t cope. Once we get fibre to the masts capacity will increase, the wibes will get faster, and it will force the telcos to up their game instead of pratting about with old phone lines. Competition is key to innovation. While they have no competition they ignore the notspots and crapspots, so the wibe can fill the gap.

    I also see it as a perfect solution for student accommodation as it eliminates the need for phone bills. All the students have mobiles anyway. Its great for shows on fields if you have a power source. Even on top of a mountain you can have a hotspot and livestream. Wind power, solar power are other options we need to look at to power them up.

    chris

    • The limiting factor on a mast is the available spectrum – sector throughput is MHz of spectrum multiplied by Mbits/s per MHz. Each operator has finite spectrum, the tech has finite performance in terms of MBits/s per MHz, so there’s only a certain amount of bandwidth off a mast irrespective of how it is backhauled (which is usually microwave and of ample capacity).

    • It might be different with the wibe Janet, they will give you 7 day return if it really can’t find a signal. Well Richard will, I don’t honestly know of any other suppliers.

  8. Just had an idea.
    What about wibes for hospital wifi? security issues?
    If you had a wibe it could go with you if you went to hospital, or it could go on holiday with you too, and save the hassle of finding expensive hotel wifi or remote cottages with no access… the possibilities are endless…

    • Just imagine the tractor driver with a WiBE in the cab.
      Signing off the spray sheet (I live in Norfolk)
      QC the trailer of vegetables (Lincolshire)
      Tanker sending over volume of milk to dairy from farm ( Lancashire)
      Remote management of irrigation systems.
      CCTV or monitoring of livestock or machine sheds.
      That’s just my random musings. The possibilities are endless.

      • Umbillical slurry spreading! We use CBs at the moment because mobiles won’t work… I can test the theory next time we spread, but I would need another wibe… I will test with one first and borrow Lins wibe to make a film of it all. Does that mean we would share the prize for most innovative use? The tractors are up to 2km apart on a long pump and the operatives have to have constant communication.

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  11. Hi i got my WiBE yesterday in rural Norfolk im so impressed it does what it says on the box its fabulous. I can now watch Your Tube, i Player with no issues at all. Fantasic Service was given to me from Rural Broadband.

  12. Agree Kev, the service from Rural Broadband is great! My wibe is loaned out many times for people to try. Bit of a cheat last month, a lady in Bolton borrowed it when she moved house whilst awaiting her infinity… she was very impressed with it too, simple plug and play. If she hadn’t had a big family with massive data needs she would have stuck with it. I think 3G could work out a bit expensive for large families, but for normal usage its still better by far than landlines, especially on the upload capabilities. Its an absolute saver in notspots. (of which there are far more than ofcom let on, even in cities)

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